A Review of the Year: The Middle East in 2011

So its been quite a year really hasn’t it? The Middle East is always a major flashpoint in every year but this year it took over the epicentre of nearly every major news story across the world as nearly the entire region became a battleground between the haves and the havenots.

Arab Spring: The spark that lit the bonfire was the actions of one Tunisian man who set himself on fire to highlight the dire situation. What happened next promises to be endlessly mythologised by the media and a few overwrought novels and memoirs which are bound to crawl out of the woodwork in a few years but the speed and sweep of rebellion throughout the Middle East and the fear and hope it has inspired in countries as diverse as China and UK is certainly compelling. Time magazine named ‘the Protester’ their ‘Person of the Year’ because Mohamed Bouazizi didn’t just inspire the Arab World, he also inspired the anti-corruption campaigning in India, protests over contested elections in Russia and arguably the worldwide Occupy movement and made authoritarian governments like China quiver in fear.

Afghanistan: Another day, another death. As the death toll creeped up for foreign troops battling the Taliban in Afghanistan, talk soon turned to reconciliation and withdrawal as the West hoped that the country could finally build their own future. However, these hopes soon started to sour as Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai appeared to be increasing undemocratic and corrupt despite Western support, a memo leaked back in August showed that the British government were ‘looking forward’ to his departure and last week, fired the head of the commission looking into human rights abuses in the country. Furthermore, in order to bring peace to Afghanistan, negotiations have to be made with the Taliban which could jeopardise the headway made for women’s rights which is claimed to be the main reason foreign troops are still occupying the country. This has led to Amnesty International launching a campaign to protect women’s interests during the negotiations.

Iran: A country never far from international trouble, the end of this year saw the withdrawal of British diplomats from Iran over fresh concerns over its nuclear programme. Although, the Tehran Times recently reports the foreign minister is willing to reopen negotiations 2011 remains yet another tense chapter in the history of Iran’s relationship with the West. Last week Tehran threatened to cut off the vital Hormuz strait oil passage to the West in a move the USA says ‘will not be tolerated’ over a UN report that suggests that Iran is developing atomic bombs for aggressive purposes, a charge vehemently denied by the Iranian government. The stalemate continues.

Iraq: As the withdrawal of British and American troops is almost complete and one of the most controversial wars in recent history draws to a close questions over Iraq plans to govern itself as a modern, democratic nation. Barack Obama said that the country still isn’t perfect but they are leaving behind a ‘sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq’ and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that lives weren’t lost in vain. Only time will tell.

Libya: This year saw the fall of Africa’s longest serving dictator, Colonel Gaddafi. The start of the year saw the uprising inspired by their Tunisian neighbours, March saw foreign intervention with the UN backing air strikes that pushed Gaddafi into hiding and an international game of ‘Where’s Gaddafi?’ had begun by the end of August. By October a brutal man had met a brutal end. It was an inhumane and merciless way to end an inhumane and merciless era, we can only hope there will be better things to come for Libya in 2012.

Syria: The other side of the Arab civil war coin to Libya, Bashir Al-Assad refuses to fall. After almost a year of civil war, rejection by the international community and even sanctions from the Arab League, Syria shows no signs of easing up the oppression of its people. Youtube videos and blogs show images of horrific tortures of civilians as protesters ‘disappear’ and turn up weeks later on their families’ doorsteps in bodybags. With the success of the Libya mission, international commentators are calling for greater intervention as human rights are abuse hither and thither. 5000 people are reported to have been killed. We can only hope that the West will do more than make a show of shaking their fist in 2012.

Palestine vs Israel: The forty year old stalemate between Israel and Palestine saw a dramatic development in the latter’s favour as UNESCO voted to recognise it as a country infuriating Israel and its most influential backer, the USA Congress. Palestine is campaigning for full recognition by the international community to give it more power to move against Israeli land acquistions beyond the boundaries of the Peace treaty in 1967.

A Review of the Year: Asia In 2011

The earth seemed to spin doubly fast in 2011 and the rate of news seemed to be so rapid and unrelenting we even missed silly season and such delights as Yvonne the runaway cow and the moose that got in a drink driving snafu because of the real important news that would not stop happening. 2011 also saw the birth of this blog. With all these new and exciting things happening it is easy to get a headrush so I have taken it upon myself and this blog to condense the news of 2011 to around six-eight key news stories from each region that I believe have been the most definitive of the year in a series of blog posts over the next few days.

Asia in 2011

China: The leader of the region, China supposedly became committed to the ‘soft power’ economic model in the early part of the last decade to take over the world with their cheap manufacturing and seemingly inexhaustible manpower. With the Olympics in Beijing in 2008, the Chinese authorities even temporarily loosened up some of their restrictions on many internet sites and it started to seem like China might be finally, fully welcomed back into the boson of international relations if albeit in an totilatarian sort of way. However, ever since the beginning of the Arab Spring in late December, early January China has feared its own ‘Jasmine Revolution’ leading to its crackdown on noted dissidents for such heinous crimes such as ‘tax evasion’ and ‘fraud’. Their most noted victim, artist Ai WeiWei emerged from captivity after 3 months detention back in June as the result of an international campaign for his release. However, many unknown dissidents may have faced a worse fate because they did not have the international community to come to their rescue. Recently another dissident, Ni Yulan was alleged crippled under torture and is today standing trial.

Japan: To use a technical term, Japan has had a clusterfuck of a year. First there was an earthquake, then there was a tsunami, then there was the nuclear panic over Fukushima. Safe to say, that this year everything that could go wrong did go wrong for the Japanese. After a disaster movie style year the task has been reconstruction and recovery since the earthquake in March that killed over 15,000 people. With political fighting and a seemingly insurmountable level of mess and misery to clear up, the Japanese have so far handed this crisis with an extraordinary level of dignity and courage. Time will tell, however, if it gets back to it’s for ‘tiger economy’ glory.

Thailand: The general election in July supposedly ushered in a new political chapter as the military formally gave up power to an elected government since their coup d’etat against populist leader, Thaksin Shinawatra in 2005. His sister, Yingluck Shinawatra won a resounding victory for the countries Red Shirts, populist supporters of greater democracy but in the spirit of reconciliation she choose to rule in coalition with the Yellow Shirts, pro-monarchists. Despite the King’s, who still has an enormous influence over Thai politics, failing health the country political system seems to be in rudimentary health. However, since the election there have been a series of devastating floods across Thailand that have killed over 600 people and declared by the World Bank as the fourth costliest disaster in human history.

Burma: After Aung San Suu Kyi’s release from house arrest in late 2010, she has begun to tour throughout Burma during 2011 as she becomes part of the domestic political structure once more. As part of a continued relaxation of Burmese rule, in October thousands of political prisoners were released at Aung San’s request. Additionally, according to the Bangkok Post, there is renewed business interest in Burma as a new centre of development. However, the slight reduction on mainstream censorship has not been met with a new toleration for the rebellious ethnic minority Karen people on the border with Thailand who are campaigning for greater political autonomy.

India: After the year Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh has had many in his position would give up. A year of corruption scandals was kicked off by the minister supposedly investigating corruption during the Commonwealth Games in 2010 was arrested on corruption charges himself. After another series of scandals, popular social activist, Anna Hazare declared a public fast in April until an anti-corruption bill was passed. This promoted a massive internet campaign that soon spread to the streets in a movement that BBC called ‘India’s Arab Spring’. It got through the lower house this month but the upper house was adjourned today rather than casting its vote.

Pakistan: In an example of religious extremism that showed just how fanatic elements of Pakistani society have become, Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer was gunned down by his bodyguard in January for supporting a repeal of Pakistan’s blasphemy law. Instead of being reviled for the murder of a public figure, Malik Mumtaz Qadri was hero-worshipped by some and had rose petals thrown over as he went into for his preliminary hearing. Religious clerics also called for a boycott of Taseer’s funeral because of his campaign for a mercy plea for Asia Bibi, a Christian Pakistani woman accused of blasphemy and sentenced to death. On the other hand, there were protests on the streets of the Punjab region where he was popular against his death. In August Taseer’s son Shahbaz Taseer was kidnapped by an unidentified gunman. He was last reported to be near the Pak-Afghan border in October but his exact whereabouts are still unknown.

North Korea: After suffering from failing health, disguised from his people, for a number of years, ‘Dear Leader’ and ‘Amazing Politian’ Kim Jong Il finally gave up the ghost and made way for the ascension of his untested youngest son, Kim Jong Un. With the two-day official mourning at an end for the man who claims to have invented a food that sounds suspiciously like a hamburger the country makes way for a ‘glorious future’ under there new ‘Glorious Leader’. Ahem.